ComEd customers should expect to have their electric meters replaced with smart meters beginning in September.
The meters are “smart” because they operate digitally, transmit electricity usage rates every half hour and use two-way radios that allow ComEd to ping the meter in case of a potential problem. They also eliminate the need for meter readers.
“Essentially, they’re digital,” said Craig Creamean, ComEd director of smart meter installations. “If you look at an old meter, it’s an analog so it’s got a bunch of gears and dials. It’s essentially just an odometer.”
ComEd should have all meters in the Freeport area replaced in about five weeks. Replacement comes at no cost to the customer.
“There’s not going to be a charge,” he said. “When we come to your door we’re not going to be asking you for money or a check.”
Customers do not need to do anything to have the meters installed or be present when ComEd crews arrive. If people want to be home during the installation, they can set up an appointment.
Creamean stressed to City Council tonight that employees will be wearing ComEd hard hats, clothing and identification badges and will not ask to come into a home. They will knock on the door to alert customers of their presence and then go through with the installation.
Employees will only be on a property for about five minutes, while the the installation itself will only take about a minute. Homes may or may not lose power during that time.
“You can be completely passive during this whole thing, and it will work,” Creamean said.
ComEd has about 4.2 million meters in its jurisdiction and so far more than 75 percent of those have received smart meters. Customers can opt out of the new meters, but it will cost about $21.50 per month to do so.
“A very small percentage of people have refused a meter,” Creamean said. “It’s far less than one percent.”
Creamean added that there aren’t any extra security risks with the meters, since no identifying information is stored on them. The only data that’s transferred is usage data, which employs uses encryption systems similar to those on an ATM.
Electric bills will not change instantly due to the new meters, but customers may be able to find savings by opting into peak-time savings programs.
Customers will receive refunds if they use less electricity during times of high usage. Customers will be notified of the high-usage times and have the option to use less electricity, but, there is no additional charge if someone goes over the expected amount, Creamean said.
When outages occur, the smart meters will help ComEd restore energy more quickly. Since they’ll be able to ping the meters, employees will know whether a truck needs to be sent to certain areas. Trucks will not be sent out unnecessarily, which means their routes will be more efficient.
The improvement comes from a company which is already on top of things when it comes to outages, said Alderman Bob Smith, 4th Ward.
“From my perspective, ComEd is an incredibly efficient company and it’s always been amazing to me how quickly they can restore power when they have outages,” Smith said. “We haven’t had anything that’s really widespread like we’ve had in the central part of the city, but even in those instances, I think they send a whole troop of people to respond to that as quickly as possible.”